Monitoring antibiotic use in animals can lead to improved animal welfare and safer feed for all

Antibiotics have been widely used since the 1940s and are in part responsible for the dramatic reduction in illness and death from infectious diseases. I’ll be the first to admit they’ve saved me on several occasions.

With more than 100 types of antibiotics, each is designed to target certain infections by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing. However, scientists and medical professionals have developed a love/hate relationship with antibiotics over the years. It’s often unreported or even dismissed, but antibiotics also kill the good bacteria along with the bad, and over time, bacteria once thwarted by antibiotics have learned to adapt and transform into superbugs or drug-resistant outbreaks.

Higher usage of antibiotics, particularly those critical for human health – the medicines “of last resort,” which the World Health Organization wants banned from use in animals – is associated with rising resistance to the drugs and the rapid evolution of these superbugs that can kill or cause serious illness.

So, when the CDC and WHO refers to the antibiotic problem as a worldwide catastrophic threat, it’s important to consider every antibiotic angle, including how we’re consuming them. And that begins with what we eat.

Antibiotics in animals

It’s well-known that antibiotics in food animals threatens consumer public health. According to the federal Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance, the extensive use of antimicrobial drugs has resulted in drug resistance that threatens to reverse the medical advances we’ve experienced over the last 70 years.

According to research conducted by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, livestock raised for food in the U.S. are dosed with five times the amount of antibiotics as farm animals in the U.K., and the difference in rates of dosage rises to at least nine times as much in the case of cattle raised for beef, three times higher in chickens and five times higher for turkeys. Suzi Shingler, at the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, reports:

“U.S. cattle farmers are massively overusing antibiotics. This finding shows the huge advantages of British beef, which is often from grass-reared animals, whereas U.S. cattle are usually finished in intensive feedlots. Trade negotiators who may be tempted to lift the ban on U.S. beef should not only be considering the impact of growth hormones, but also of antibiotic resistance due to rampant antibiotic use.”

Numerous health organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Infectious Disease Society of America, and the World Health Organization, agree and have called for significant reductions in the use of antibiotics for animal food production.

In the last few years, U.S. cattle farmers have begun to implement safer feed regulations with more and more grass-fed beef available in regular grocery stores, along with meat from organically raised animals. Though slower than the UK, safe feed farmers in the U.S. are implementing these practices and the move from industrial production toward more emphasis on breeds, feed and overall care is here to stay.

The VFD and technology monitors antibiotic use 

 The FDA acknowledges the important role medical antimicrobials play in treating, controlling and preventing disease in food-producing animals. However, the agency has been engaged with veterinary groups and animal-producing organizations to carefully analyze antibiotics that have been labeled for continuous or ambiguous durations of use.

This careful analysis lead to the new legislation in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), with the FDA now requiring feed mills and distributors to complete a VFD form and keep it on file. While the form can be sent electronically from the veterinarian to the feed mill, it can’t be simply phoned in by the veterinarian; there must be a paper (or electronic) trail. And feed mills, veterinarians and producers are required to keep a copy of the VFD on file for two years.

It’s time to adapt and to take advantage of the tools and technology that can make the process seamless and effortless. At Sprout Solutions, we’ve created a technology platform that will help feed mills and commodity traders keep track of:

  • VFD Agreements – Create and store VFD agreements between customer and veterinarian for controlled ingredients and feed.
  • Records – Manage record-keeping requirements and provide controls to prevent distribution of any VFD-controlled substance without the proper VFD documentation.
  • Identification and Tracing – Identify and trace all feed and resale products that include the controlled substances.

Technology today is changing agriculture and has helped transform it into modern farming; it’s time for farmers, mill operators and distributors alike to use this technology to automate processes, save time and improve overall animal care.

Gretchen Henry is the co-founder and CEO at Sprout Solutions, a full-service software platform that provides mills and merchandisers in the agricultural industry with accurate, Web-based tools and systems

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